Four stops away from Heathrow, I decide to pull out my responsibly stapled-together itinerary for the next ten days: American Airlines flights between New York and London, my Qatar flight from London to the Maldives via Male and back, as well as a two-night hotel stay in Piccadilly Circus as proof I won’t just be sleeping on the night bus for 48 hours when I come back to London in another week.
American Airlines. JFK to LHR. March 15th departure. March 25th return. Great.
Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives. Arriving March 18th at 2:30 pm. Boat 5. Leaving the morning of March 23rd. Check.
Le Meridian Hotel, London. Check in March 23rd. Check out March 25th. Courtesy of Mom. Happy Birthday to me…Happy Birthday to me…
I’m flipping through these sheets, casually checking and double-checking, challenging my negation of the theory that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I’m listening to my music, jovially, high on life, tickled pink. Cloud 9, baby! Cloud mother fucking 9!
Qatar Airlines. London to Male. Thursday, February 17th. Returning February 23rd.
Thursday, I think. It’s not Thursday. It’s Saturday.
Qatar Airlines. London to Male. Departing Thursday, February 17th. Returning February 23rd.
My fucking flight was booked for FEBRUARY.
I do my best to hold back the massive wave of panic and the accompanying urge to vomit, trading a more visceral reaction to crisis for heart-thumping adrenaline and limp extremities. Still, I read my flight information again, my entire body filled with that drowning sensation that hits you when you’ve done something disastrously wrong.
I can’t possibly have been so stupid.
I had just been going over the itinerary because that’s what adults did, just to make sure, just to go through the motions of responsibility to ensure yourself that everything is certainly in order, because, well, you’re a goddamn adult and adults don’t misbook their flights to the middle of the Indian Ocean but an entire MONTH.
Aren’t I supposed to be the responsible one? I’m the person who pays my bills in full and on time, who always has a sizeable chunk of cash in my bank account for modeling’s infinite number of proverbial rainy days, who – in a permanent effort to appease my mother’s illness-related paranoia – always has health insurance. I’m not the idiot! I am not the idiot!
I check my phone, briefly convincing myself that it is actually February – an obvious solution to my little Qatar problem. March, I read. It is most definitely March. And I, Jennifer Lee Bahn, am most definitely fucked, and am, by definition, a wonderfully capable idiot.
The fifteen minutes it takes to get to LHR are spent mentally choreographing the moment when I finally reach Terminal 4. “I’ve done something horribly wrong,” I imagine myself saying to some uniformed man (I will find a man, I think, as he will innately want to have sex with me at some animalistic level and will therefore be kinder with the airline-mandated lashings I should likely receive for such a booking atrocity). I am also planning for obstacles, and have orchestrated a possible scenario in which there is a massive crowd that I must push through. “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!” I yell, and then, breathless, make my way to the ticket counter. I debate the importance of genuine tear shed in instances such as these.
The doors open onto Terminal 4 and I haul ass through them, running through the corridors, tearing up escalators hauling my 30-pound carry-on bag in my arms. Heaving. Everything about me is heaving. Too often I find myself demonstrating extreme emotions in airports. I suspect there is likely a TSA alert attached to my passport: Girl often looks to be in extreme duress (sobbing, red-faced, panicked, horribly and painfully depressed in spirit). Pay close attention to. Either way, someone’s probably got me on suicide watch or a terrorist list.
“Uh, hi, um, hi,” I force out. The words do not come from my mouth intelligible and clearly formed, but from my throat, strangled by my wrenching horror and my tightening esophagus. “I, uh. My flight…is…uh…”
I pass the sheet of paper I’ve been staring at for the last twenty minutes to a woman with fogged over eyes that remind me of Labradors with cataracts. “I booked my flight for a month ago. My flight was in February. It’s my best friend’s wedding. Oh, my god. I can’t believe what I’ve done.”
I hear the clack clack clack of her fingers on keyboard while she smiles kindly, the way one smiles at a gun-wielding lunatic who is on the verge of a massacre or who, if placated correctly, might simply give up and collapse on the floor in a fit of their own tears. She tells me that she’s just checked in my two friends, ones that I mentioned were supposed to be on this flight with me – except, you know, on the RIGHT DAY.
“Okay,” she says, looking up from her keyboard. “Just walk over to the ticket counter and see if you’re on the flight.”
“Over there?” My newfound insecurity and failure to trust myself has now officially destroyed my ability to walk even four feet without being held by the hand. I point in the direction of men in plum suits under a sign that clearly states “TICKETING COUNTER” just to confirm.
“Yes,” she says, patient as ever. “Right over there.”
Here we go again. A man this time. Just as planned. Dear Male Qatar Employee, please have mercy on me per the dictates of male-female relations. Please treat me like a dude who wants to go on a date with me and not a female cop giving a female driver a ticket, punishing her for being an idiot, an embarrassing blight on the species.
I hand him the piece of paper, scrunching my face up in an effort to cry. Surprisingly, I am unable to burst into a proper fit of tears. Something akin to dignity holds me back.
Cry, damn it! Cry! Don’t you know what’s at stake here?! Paradise! Maldives! Your best friend’s wedding! Idiot!
Instead, my face wrenches into a form I have not experienced in quite some time – that I’m-in-trouble-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself face that is generally accompanied by a heated flush and an awaiting of punishment. I’m pretty sure the last time I wore a look such as this was when I got in trouble at ballet class for dancing to “Under the Sea” while holding a rhinestone in a closed fist. My teacher pulled me aside after my incapable spinning and gravity-hampered leaping and told me it was dangerous to dance with closed fists because I could break my hand, which I of course interpreted as “You’re a horrible dancer and a tragic rule breaker. You will never go anywhere in life.” I was six.
“This is,” I start. “This is just, completely…I can’t believe I did this, but my flight was for, uh, last month, and, oh my God.”
I can’t quite coordinate sentences that will appropriately describe the situation at hand. The point likely being, that, if I do, I will have to admit to reality and personal accountability. He stares down at the piece of paper, just as confused as I had been over half an hour ago. And he, like me, doesn’t have much to say. He’s used to people being 3 hours late for flights, surely, not 30 days.
“It’s my best friend’s wedding,” I plead. “Just tell me how to get on that plane.”
He’s typing and staring concernedly at a screen I cannot see. “That was a special rate,” he muses, my possible paradise death sentence.
“I booked it back in November,” I eek out, in hopes that the failings of a more distant past might have less of an impact on my future. This is not generally an effective plea bargain when it comes to airlines, their motto, more often than not, being “Tough shit.”
He keeps typing and staring and I’m looking at a sea of people coming and going, all of them presumably with gloriously correct itineraries. They walk around with calm enough faces, rolling their luggage without frantically plowing through crowds. Showoffs.
My entire body aches from the stress.
“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” I say, and then correct myself. “This is actually the second stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” The other date-related mishap had been an acceptance response to NYU for last year. In my haste, I selectively read from the letter something like “congratulations” and “July 1st.” I spent April through June in a moral quandary as to whether I should return. When finally I came to a decision (not to go back), I called in to consult with a student advisor, who told me that my response didn’t much matter at this point, being as my decision was required back in May. Apparently I had conveniently skipped over the part of the letter that said “Please respond to this acceptance within three weeks of the date of this letter.”
I watch him write a series of numbers down on a piece of paper, though I can’t tell if he’s adding or subtracting. He consults another plum-suited man behind him, turning the screen his direction. I’m sweating through my hoodie.
He’s writing all this down in pencil when he arrives at some number in British pounds and turns it towards me.
“One seventy?” I ask, incredulous. For the last hour I have been prepared to shell out $2,200 or merely be forced into defeat, getting back on the first a flight to New York with my tail between my legs less than 32 hours after leaving my apartment.
“Pounds,” he says, as though that had been my main concern.
I whip out my credit card before he can change his mind, revoke the good fortune he has bestowed upon me, a kindness most people will later attribute to the fact that I am girl and an argument I will not refute.
Yes, me. An idiot girl. The luckiest idiot girl in the whole goddamm world who is still getting on that plane to paradise.